In the wake of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, these are the two decks that are on everyone's mind. While it may seem that the new Standard format is being dominated by these two archetypes, with there being multiple variations of each deck that are in widely different directions, I think that the format is a bit more open than it seems.
With Jeskai, you have to be concerned with their creature suite. They pretty much all have Mantis Rider because that's the whole reason you're even playing Jeskai to begin with, but after that there are many different options. Goblin Rabblemaster, Seeker of the Way, Hushwing Gryff, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Narset, Enlightened Master; these are all very powerful creatures that your opponents could likely be playing, and they all affect how the pace of the game plays. In addition, you have to determine if your opponent has Anger of the Gods, Disdainful Stroke, Nullify, or how many copies of Dig Through Time they could be playing. The Jeskai Way is diverse in its threats, so tread lightly.
Likewise, the Abzan decks come in different shapes and sizes. Some have aggressive two-drops and play leaner threats with having the expensive planeswalker top end. Some have Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid and lean on expensive planeswalkers that always provide a two-for-one advantage when you cast them. Some have a couple copies of Wingmate Roc, and some just jam all four Rocs and call it a day. There is still quite a bit of variation in the Abzan decks, but much like Mantis Rider is the standout from Jeskai, you aren't leaving any Abzan Houses without your Siege Rhinos.
After the Pro Tour, I was instantly enamored with the list that Mike Sigrist and the rest of his team came up with. The Abzan Aggro deck that allowed him to break through into his first Pro Tour Top 8 was a thing of beauty in my eyes. Funny enough, Brian Braun-Duin had come to the same conclusion, and with events for both of us the following weekend we decided to put in some work on the deck.
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 2 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
Brian was heading out to LA for the Grand Prix, and since I wasn't able to make that trip I was going to be heading over to Knoxville for a weekend full of Magic with a Premier IQ on Saturday and a Khans of Tarkir Sealed PTQ on Sunday.
If you caught my stream last week at all, then you might have seen me battling with Mr. Sigrist's Abzan Aggro deck, but I hadn't made any changes to it. I wanted to get some games in with the original list and then formulate my ideas with Brian about it afterwards.
Right off the bat, I wanted a twenty-fifth land. Hitting your land drops is so important with this deck since we are more focused on curving out and trying to put as much pressure on our opponents as possible. With a lot of aggressive two and three drops, there is always the fear of flooding out. With the last format, Mutavault existed to help prevent this, and the one before that had lands like Kessig Wolf Run and Gavony Township to sink mana into. We have the same thing now, but it's a little bit different than what we've been used to.
Rather than relying on utility lands as mana sinks, we have access to these awesome creatures and the raw power that they bring to every stage in the game. These cats and demons are what set this deck apart, and I really enjoy the playstyle. You win a lot of games where you are stifled on mana but can still cast these above average threats on curve, and then there are games where you are flooding but always have something to do with your mana because of the monstrous ability on Fleecemane Lion, the activated abilities on Rakshasa Deathdealer, and the bestow cost on Herald of Torment. It's been a while since we've had this kind of selection of curvaceous threats that we also don't mind drawing on turn 7 or on an open board in a really late and grindy game.
Not to mention we get to make flying Siege Rhinos.
I was also pretty unhappy with the Ulcerate. Even though it allowed for some pretty sweet tempo plays, with the painlands, Thoughtseizes, and fetchlands, I was doing quite a bit of damage to myself. Even with Siege Rhino and Sorin, Solemn Visitor to recoup some of that lost life, it still felt like a huge liability against the decks where you would want that type of effect. Mantis Rider and Goblin Rabblemaster are the two prime suspects for an Ulcerate, and decks with those cards can burn you out from twelve extremely quickly.
I was also pretty unhappy with Anafenza, the Foremost, while Heir of the Wilds was overperforming for me. Oddly enough, BBD was having the opposite experiences, claiming that Anafenza was bonkers and was always amazing and that Heir of the Wilds was just so-so. I found that I was just never really casting her, as I would rather have the hard to block threat in Heir of the Wilds, or was playing a tapped land so that I could play a Siege Rhino on turn 4, or when I did play her she would just die. On the flip side, Heir of the Wilds was always amazing for me, getting in lots of damage or holding down the fort against a large creature that I couldn't deal with yet. The ferocious trigger happened quite a bit too with Rakshasa Deathdealer, Siege Rhino, and Herald of Torment being bestowed.
After playing the deck, talking with BBD and reading Mike's awesome article, I ended up with the following list:
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 1 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 2 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
As you can see, we made some changes from the original list.
In the maindeck, the primary change was adding a twenty-fifth land in addition to cutting the Ulcerate, an Heir of the Wilds, and moving a Sorin, Solemn Visitor to the sideboard in favor of playing two copies of Wingmate Roc. The Roc is very good against all flavors of Abzan and Jeskai, which made us feel like it deserved a spot in the main.
One change that I had made while I was streaming with the deck was cutting the second copy of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth for the fourth basic land (to coincide with our four Windswept Heath), but after playing some games with it and talking through the reasoning behind it with BBD (who spoke with Mike about it as well), it's definitely right to have the two copies. The times where it's amazing outweigh the times that it's "just" a Lotus Petal.
Since there wasn't a whole lot of Mono-Red Aggro being played, we felt it would be safe to cut a Drown in Sorrow. However, after seeing the results from the Grand Prix in LA and the Open Series in Worcester, I think I would like to have the third Drown in Sorrow back.
The fourth Abzan Charm was alright but not necessary. I was never really excited to bring it in. I felt the same way about the Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. I really only wanted it for the control matchups, and it even felt a little "blah" there, although I'm not sure what else I would rather have.
Bile Blight and Murderous Cut were both awesome, and I could see myself potentially wanting a second Cut. To no one's surprise, the turns you get to deploy a threat and Cut a creature, or Thoughtseize and Cut, or Downfall and Cut, are all pretty awesome. It makes me think that I might want to have one in the main. It's pretty bad against the U/B Control deck, but that's really it.
The extra Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Wingmate Roc were both pretty good to have against the Jeksai decks. Even though they are likely bringing in Dissolves and/or Disdainful Stroke, they are still better than cards like Herald of Torment and such.
After playing with the new format a bit more, there is one card that I would definitely have wanted access to, and I think actually has an argument for potential maindeck slots:
The tempo gained from this little guy just seems too good to be true, and there is a relevant target in the maindeck of most decks; most notably Courser of Kruphix. I always feel pretty bad having to use a card like Hero's Downfall on a Courser of Kruphix when I know there are threats like Siege Rhino, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Polukranos, World Eater, and the like waiting in the wings. Even against the Jeskai decks, hitting a Banishing Light can be game breaking, and hitting a Perilous Vault against U/B Control can almost be game over on the spot. Even in the aggressive matchups, it's a 2/1 creature that can jump in the way of oncoming Gobling Rabblemasters.
For the Premier IQ, my traveling buddy Stephen Horne and I played the exact same 75. It was a small 5k, so there were only seven rounds, and we were lucky enough to dodge each other long enough to double draw into the top 8.
I ended up losing in the Top 8 to U/B Control which was a little sad. I felt like the matchup had been fine, and despite mulliganing to six in game 1 and then to four in game 2, I still actually had a shot of winning both games. In particular, the mulligan to four game, I was able to navigate the game to a point where we both had a handful of lands in play and were hellbent. I felt like I was definitely at a disadvantage, but if I could hit a Siege Rhino and have him brick a couple times I could have closed the game out. Unfortunately, he drew a Dig Through Time and then found a Jace's Ingenuity and that was that.
Stephen's opponent wanted to leave so they were able to agree to a prize split and his opponent then decided to scoop to him and head out. That sounds shady, but everything was done with the assistance of the judges to make sure it was all legit. Sadly, Stephen lost in the Top 4 due to mana/color screw.
I didn't really have anything that interesting happen during the tournament. I did have an opponent who didn't realize that Herald of Torment did a damage to me in my upkeep so rather than putting me at one and having me die on my turn he just conceded to my flying Siege Rhino with him at one. I also won a nail biter against the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck, where in the first game he won just by attacking me for twelve with some Voyaging Satyrs when I was missing a removal spell.
In our win and in match, Stephen and I were sitting next to each other. I noticed that his opponent was quite chatty and seemed like he was trying to rush some game actions. Most of the time this doesn't really mean anything, but sometimes it can be a tell-tale sign of someone who may be up to no good, so when Stephen Thoughtseized him on the play in game 3 and he laid out eight cards, in two rows of four I noticed and pointed it out while Stephen was trying to figure out which card to take.
Since a game action had been taken, it was a game loss, which is correct, but I could tell that Stephen wasn't too proud of the win. People who are chatty and personable have this ability to make it really easy to believe that they always have the best intentions, and in the wake of the shuffling videos that are being investigated, I just wanted to point out that everyone should always make sure that their own interests are in mind. It would be nice to believe that no one ever tries to cheat in this awesome game that we all love, but that is simply not the case. I'm not saying that the gentleman who drew eight cards against Stephen did it on purpose, but he did have the same nonchalant "Oh well, I guess I lose" demeanor I have seen in the past when he got caught.
The moral of the story is to always watch yourself and your opponents, and if you ever feel like anything shady might be going on, call a judge to verify. Even with something that you might not perceive as a big deal, it's worth it to protect yourself. I had a situation in States last weekend where my opponent drew his first card and had a shocked/scared look on his face. When I asked him if it was a sideboard card or something, he just said no and that he just didn't want to draw that card.
He then proceeded to play Elvish Mystic, Goblin Rabblemaster, and then he cast Anger of the Gods to kill away my mana creatures. That's not a usually sequence of cards that you see being played in the maindeck so I talked to a judge and had them verify that he had the Angers in his maindeck while we continued to play our game. It turns out he did and was just really unhappy to draw whatever it was that he drew on his first turn.
Better safe than sorry I say.
This weekend I will be up in Philly for Eternal Weekend, so make sure you say hi if you happen to run into me. Before I go, I will leave you with one of the biggest blowouts that I got to exact on my opponent this weekend.
I had out an Avalanche Tusker, but I didn't really want to attack since he had an Alpine Grisly sitting back on defense. He then played his own Avalanche Tusker and it looked like we were just going to trade elephants, but then I drew Jeering Instigator. I got to morph and flip it to take his Avalanche Tusker, and make him block it with his own Alpine Grisly, while using my Avalanche Tusker to kill one of his other creatures.
This was quite the, how do you say, Goulet?